Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Twenty-Two
written by Sugarberry

"So this is where the victor ends up," commented Hood as he approached the hospital bed where Bilberry-- battered, bruised, and broken-- lay. His thigh was covered in bandages, his head sported several purplish lumps, and his leg was in a cast.

The dark and hateful eyes glared at Hood, showing no sorrow for past crimes. "I was the victor-- until those rotten stairs gave out beneath me." His stare, however, faltered under Hood's steady gaze.

Shasta, keeping vigil at his bedside, placed a hoof protectively on Bilberry's foreleg but kept silent. Glancing in her direction, Hood asked, "Are you okay, Shasta?" The young mare simply nodded her head.

"Your sister has told us of your plan," Hood remarked. "The house and land still belong to your family. Was there really a need for subterfuge?"

Bilberry turned away from Hood. He would have rather had faced Hood's anger, not this calm and seemingly concerned questioning. "My dad's ginseng patch was gone." He turned back to face Hood once more, his anger flaring. "You ponies of Woodlawn destroyed it for us." He cast a quick glance at Shasta, searching for her support against the perceived enemy.

"The police chief has been checking that out." Hood, too, glanced at Shasta to include her in the exchange of information. "It appears that the ginseng was dug up by a family in Trevor."

"What right did they have to it?" Bilberry spat.

"None, apparently," answered Hood honestly. "They hunted ginseng in the woods between Woodlawn and Trevor. Finding the unattended field of it, they assumed it was fair game."

"They assumed wrong!" Bilberry tried to sit up, but the pain forced him to lie back quickly.

"We were gone for six years, Bil-Boy," Shasta rationalized in a hushed voice.

"We had to go where Dad could make more jangles," Bilberry deemed it necessary to explain. "He planned on the ginseng maturing on its own, to be there for Shasta and I."

"He knew how much we loved the farm," Shasta recalled. "It had been his world since he was a foal; he grew up there and brought Mom there when they were married. He wanted so much to return someday."

"Why didn't he?" softly prompted Hood, fully knowing the answer but sensing the need for the two ponies to express their feelings to someone who would listen.

Bilberry could no longer bear up under the events of the last twenty-four hours, and silent tears rolled down his face. Almost unheard by Hood, he whispered, "He was lost at sea."

"I'm sorry," was all Hood could think of to say.

Shasta explained further, her attention focused on a memory. "When we moved to Shore Town, Dad worked on the waterfront. He got interested in boats and loved to go out on the water. He said it made him feel free." She sat in silence for a minute, and Hood respected her grieving. When she could continue, she went on with her story. "One day in late autumn, he went out by himself just to get away from the city for awhile."

"He asked me to join him," Bilberry said quietly, "but I told him I wanted to catch a movie that afternoon."

Shasta reached for Bilberry's nearest hoof, and cradled it in her own. "A freak storm came up while he was out on the water-- the temperature plummeted and the wind blew viciously and snow fell-- it was like a tempest out of place and out of time," she recalled.
"Dad never came back," ended Bilberry. "He never had a chance."

The three ponies in the room sat in silence. Hood's heart went out to this brother and sister who had suffered such sadness; and when trying to pick up the pieces, they had found their world shattered even further. He searched for the right words to say. He knew they were too proud for charity, but the pair definitely needed help. "I'm sorry about your dad and losing your mother, too; and that your homecoming to the farm wasn't what you expected. But don't lose hope. We'll work together to figure something out."

Shasta raised her tired eyes to his. "Will Bilberry be put in jail?" she asked.

"I can't answer that, but I do know that Chief Checker will do all he can to straighten things out."

Bilberry's voice was the next one heard. "Hood," he said almost unwillingly. He took a deep breath and gulped. "Hood... make sure Shasta's looked out for... okay?"

Hood walked closer to his bedside, and laid a hoof on his shoulder. "I'll make sure you are both looked out for," he promised. He smiled at Shasta and turned and left the room.

He met Checker as he exited the hospital, the police chief returning to his office after one more look in on his wife and daughter. "Checker," Hood began," if Bilberry or Shasta need any kind of help, I'm here for them. Keep me informed on any new developments."

"The main concern at this point is a place for Shasta to stay-- Bilberry, too, after a couple days in the hospital," Checker observed.

Hood flashed a quick glance at him. "You mean it? Shasta will be glad to hear that; she's worried that you are going to lock him up away from her."

"It appears to me that those two just need someone to help get their lives on track."

"I'm going over to talk to Stardrift. Maybe she could put up Shasta for a few days anyway. Bilberry could stay with me."

Checker grinned. "Looks like you got it all figured out."

"Maybe not all, but I'm working on it," Hood admitted.

"If it helps any," Checker confided, "I'm going to suggest to Golden Prairie that he make full reparation for the amount of ginseng he helped himself to off Meadow Minder's land-- if he replaces the ginseng beds, Bilberry and Shasta will at least have come back to their starting point."

"And a share of the profits he's made off that ginseng would be appropriate, too," Hood recommended.

"I'll keep that in mind," assured Checker. "I've got to be off now; tell Stardrift to keep those foals of mine in line." With a wave of his hoof, he parted from Hood.

* * *

It was several weeks later at Hood's Place. William was at the counter with his sassafras tea, debating Hood on the merits of the newly automated library system. Drumstick's replacement, a forest green stallion with a purple butterfly symbol and a cast on his right back leg, was waiting on a table at which Dreamy and Marquee sat. All eyes went to the door as Shasta and Angel came in like a breath of fresh air and approached the counter, each slipping onto a stool on either side of William.

"How's your work at the hospital going?" William asked of Shasta. He had immediately adopted Shasta and Bilberry as his honorary grandchildren when he had heard their story from Hood.

Angel replied for Shasta. "She's a true 'Angel of Mercy'; every patient in the hospital wants her for their nurse."

Bilberry came behind the counter to prepare the lunches Dreamy and Marquee had ordered. "Hi, sis!" he brandished a brotherly smile at Shasta. "Hi, Angel." This last salutation was accompanied by a shy grin.

Hood stood back as the young ponies bantered with William and each other. It's amazing how things work out over time, he contemplated silently. Feeling content and pleased with his life, he looked out over his domain; what more could he want to make his world complete?

His eyes inadvertently rested on Dreamy; for a moment, their eyes locked. And with one simple wink from her, Hood realized that life could never be uncomplicated. And would he really want it completely devoid of problems to solve and bridges to build?

That thought needed only a moment's deliberation; some things were worth striving for. With his most enticing smile, Hood winked back.

The End

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